Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I receive a small commission at no cost to you when you make a purchase using my link.
Lab-created diamonds are also known as “man-made,” “cultured,” "synthetic," or “engineered” diamonds. What they are not is “cubic zirconia.” A CZ is a substitute for a diamond. Lab-created diamonds are real diamonds that share many of the attributes of a natural diamond.
Lab-created and natural diamonds differ in origin
Natural diamonds formed deep within the earth a couple billion years ago, give or take. Carbon dioxide buried around 100 miles beneath the Earth’s surface was exposed to heat in excess of 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit and put under about 727,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. The diamonds were then propelled to the surface of the earth by deep volcanic explosions.
Lab-created diamonds are formed by one of two processes: High Pressure-High Temperature (HPHT) and Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD).
The HPHT process begins when a small diamond seed is placed into carbon and then exposed to temperatures of about 2700 degrees Fahrenheit and pressure of approximately 1.5 million pounds per square inch. The carbon melts around the starter seed and then is carefully cooled to form a diamond.
The CVD process begins when a thin slice of diamond seed is placed in a sealed chamber and heated to around 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. The chamber is filled with a carbon-rich gas, such as methane, and other gases that are ionized into plasma. The ionization breaks the molecular bonds in the gases, and the pure carbon adheres to the diamond seed and slowly crystallizes into a diamond.
Environmental impact of lab-created and natural diamonds
For every carat mined, natural diamonds disturb 100 square feet of land and generate 6000 pounds of mineral waste. Also, mining employs heavy machinery, explosives, hydraulic equipment and the like to extract the diamonds. To give credit where it is due, diamond mining has become one of the most heavily regulated industries, and companies are constantly trying to minimize the effect on the environment.
Lab-created diamonds are significantly less detrimental to the environment. Per carat, they disturb .07 square feet of land and generate 1 pound of mineral waste.
The biggest differences between lab-created and mined diamonds are the amount of water and energy used for mining.
Lab-created diamonds are less expensive that natural diamonds
That’s true, but it does not mean that lab-created are really cheap. They can be from 20% to 30% less expensive than natural. The biggest advantage of the price difference may be that you can purchase a larger diamond on a particular budget.
The reason for the difference in price is not that the quality of the lab-created is less, but that the supply chain is. To get a diamond from the mine to you entails miners, cutters, manufacturers, retailers, etc., which is a long supply chain. Lab-created eliminates the expense of mining and goes through fewer hands—short supply chain.
Lab-created diamonds are identical to natural diamonds
Lab-created diamonds consist of carbon atoms arranged in the characteristic diamond crystal structure and, therefore, exhibit the same chemical and optical properties, i.e., the same fire, scintillation and sparkle. They cannot be distinguished from natural diamonds by eye or even by loupe. Only specialized equipment is able to detect microscopic differences.
Lab-created diamonds are graded exactly the same as natural diamonds are
Regardless of the certifying organization, each diamond (lab-created and natural) is graded independently by several gemologists. The individual grades are compiled and analyzed to determine the final grade. The gemologists judge the diamond by color, cut, clarity, color, and carat.
Three of the organizations that grade both lab-created and natural diamonds are:
- Gemological Institute of America (GIA)
- International Gemological Institute (IGI)
- Gemological Science International (GSI)
How to choose between a lab-created and a natural diamond
The bottom line is that your choice depends solely on what you prefer.
A natural diamond certainly has about it a long-held significance or mystique. It is a miracle of nature, unlike anything else on earth, and denotes luxury. It took billions of years to form and that may be more meaningful to you than a diamond that was created in a few weeks.
Then there is a growing contingent of people who place a great emphasis on protecting our environment and celebrate the wonders of and value modern technology. And then there’s the price.
It’s not a competition. All diamonds represent love. All are beautiful. Select the one that speaks to your heart.
Go to the James Allen website to see glorious collections of both lab-created and natural diamonds.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below, we will do our best to help you out.
Happy Diamond Hunting!